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How Northwest Indiana Chambers of Commerce are helping small businesses during COVID-19 -- Pt 2

Updated: Aug 27, 2020

Three Northwest Indiana chambers – Crossroads Regional Chamber of Commerce, Duneland Chamber of Commerce and Gary Chamber of Commerce – discussed the resources they provide to their members and how they themselves are adapting as a chamber during this pandemic.

By: Rocio Villaseñor

Northwest Indiana chambers of commerce are still adapting to the changes the pandemic has brought.

According to the Indiana Chamber of Commerce business impact survey findings released on April 23, 56 percent of nearly 1,400 business leaders ranked the impact on their own business at eight, nine or ten on a scale of one to ten. The biggest effects from the survey findings were: revenue loss at 80 percent, cash flow concerns at 51 percent, suspended operations at 34 percent and employee layoffs at 32 percent.

Duneland Chamber of Commerce

Maura Durham, president of Duneland Chamber of Commerce, said in a telephone interview that

“there was a huge learning curve that came with the coronavirus.” Not only for small businesses, but office businesses as well in that they had to start utilizing or upgrading their technology more.

Durham said when the pandemic began, they provided a COVID-19 resources landing page on their website like all other business member organizations. She said they partnered with other organizations and chambers in providing loans and grants information like the Porter County United Way and the Indiana Small Business Development Center if members needed financial advice. “We just really try to help connect businesses with the specific resources that they’re looking for...to make sure that businesses [who] were going to be affected also have that information.”

The Duneland Chamber of Commerce represents five towns: Chesterton, Porter, Beverly Shores, Burns Harbor and Dune Acres. They are geographically located, but have members from neighboring counties like Lake County and La Porte County. As well as neighboring states like Illinois and Michigan. They currently have 416 members.

Durham added that she has not heard of any of the members going out of business. “I hear more of the professionals that have chosen to retire earlier than expected.”

When the stay-at-home order was put into place, they received daily calls Durham said. Most of the calls were focused on chamber events if they were canceled or postponed. She said they had a large-scale event the weekend prior the stay-at-home order called “Corkscrew and Brew,” and it is now rescheduled to November. “We had many calls with was going on and then that led to or conversation on how other businesses we’re going to handle it.”

Durham said there were calls coming in about any businesses hiring since many individuals were laid off due to coronavirus. She said chambers as a whole were helping on the hiring side by putting individuals in contact with businesses that needed people. They also keep advertising on their Facebook page if any local businesses are hiring. “I think it is a huge benefit in the community to have a constant promoter and cheerleader urging these businesses to continue to fight to be here.”

The chamber also provides information of any grants or loans available on their Facebook page. She is not aware how many members have received COVID relief assistance. Durham said that they as a chamber were not able to apply for Paycheck Protection Program, PPP, loan because they are a 501 c 6 organization. Crossroads Regional Chamber of Commerce Patena also echoed this.

Durham said that the pandemic strengthened the chamber’s mission and vision. They were able to focus on their programs value to their members and the community. “It just makes the chamber a stronger organization to have to critically look at the programs that we choose to do.”

The chamber continues to face challenges because of the pandemic. Durham shared that not being able to qualify for the PPP loan is a struggle. She said they had to cancel and postpone networking events like other chambers. This was an impact to their revenue streams because chambers depend on them along with membership dues and advertising to keep the chamber afloat. Durham said they are trying to balance making sure they keep their staff employed and knowing that some of their member businesses “are not going to be able to participate and sponsor” some of the community and business events.

Durham said there are two parts to the chamber: community impact programs and events, and the business-to-business events. She said for the business-to-business events they have been doing a lot of Zoom meetings like virtual coffee with the chamber.

The chamber also has one of the largest outdoor markets called the Chesterton European Market. It is every Saturday from 8:00am to 2:00pm. In previous years, the market has brough in up to 1,500 people on a given Saturday. The market is actually limiting capacity to 250 people at the time, and having 40 vendors and live music. They also have mask requirements and social distancing. Durham said they are making sure they are still providing an opportunity for members businesses to continue to thrive or at least maintain their business in this economy.

Durham shared that she was unaware if any of her members took the state’s business impact survey.

Read about Crossroads Regional Chamber and Gary Chamber